Cities are home to 55 per cent of the world’s population, all jammed together cheek-by-jowl. Little wonder, then, that cities are being hit hardest by COVID-19: an estimated 90 per cent of all reported cases have occurred in urban areas.
But the same concentration of people also makes cities the places where the battle for a green recovery from COVID-19 – which is essential to reduce future pandemic risks and fight climate change – can be won.
Cities are breeding grounds for ideas and the places where many new techniques to reduce climate change, pollution, resource use and biodiversity loss are taking shape. Before COVID-19, many cities had already adopted urban farming, e-mobility, non-motorized transport, and were exploring zero emission buildings, district energy and decentralized renewable energy systems, nature-based solutions, and retrofitting projects.
The trillions of dollars likely to be invested in COVID-19 recovery packages can accelerate such developments.
“As we respond to the pandemic and work towards recovery, we look to our cities as hubs of community, human innovation and ingenuity,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the recent launch of a policy brief on COVID-19 in an urban space. “Now is the time to … recover better, by building more resilient, inclusive and sustainable cities.”
Future proofing economies
COVID-19 recovery provides an opportunity to future-proof economies: for cities to clear their air, green their open spaces, and embrace solutions that help decarbonize and drive down resource use and related impacts on ecosystems, while creating new jobs.
Urban planning and design that helps create strategically dense cities and connects housing with transport and energy planning, as well as grey with blue and green infrastructure to harness benefits from nature-based solutions, will be critical.
UNEP is also working with ICLEI, through its Cities Biodiversity Center, to support multi-level governance for people and nature to live in harmony in and around our cities.
“We must pursue a green, resilient and inclusive economic recovery,” said Guterres. “By focusing on high ecological transformation and job creation, stimulus packages can steer growth towards a low-carbon, resilient pathway and advance the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Climate change: the next threat
The need for such action is urgent. COVID-19 may be currently taking centre stage, but climate change is still waiting in the wings.
Coastal cities are already enduring devastating floods, coastal erosion, sea-level rise and extreme weather events linked to climate change. Cities also suffer higher temperature than non-urban areas. Today, around 200 million city-dwellers in over 350 cities live with summer temperature highs of over 35°C (95°F). The number of cities chronically affected by heat-stress is predicted to rise to 970 by 2050. All these factors pose serious threats to people’s health and livelihoods, and our economies overall.
While cities are vulnerable to climate change, some 75 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions are from cities. This means that the key to a decarbonized transition is held by the mayor and city councilors. Over 70 large cities, representing 425 million people, have committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. This is a start: 227 cities annually produce more than 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. We need a five-fold decrease in emissions to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C.
Success is possible. Cities have a long tradition of reinventing themselves, not least in response to previous pandemics that brought the introduction of sewage systems, public parks and housing regulation to improve sanitation and reduce overcrowding.
Connecting nature, climate and land use
Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park is a perfect example of nature-based strategies at the crossroad of health, urban resilience and climate goals. The park’s innovative design reduces flooding risk by absorbing and storing water, which is then used for irrigation in the dry season.
Medellin in Colombia, meanwhile, has embraced nature as a cooling solution through its ‘Green Corridors’ project, transforming 18 roads and 12 waterways into lush, green havens of cool shade. The project has reduced the surface temperature in Medellin by 2-3 ̊C while improving air quality and biodiversity.
Multi-level governance crucial
Cities and nations are increasingly working together on socio-economic recovery through multi-level governance on decision-making. Ministers and mayors recently came together to accelerate climate action in an event organized by UNEP, the United Nations Development Programme, UN-Habitat, the Global Covenant of Mayors, ICLEI and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG).
Over 300 participants – including ministers from Italy, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, South Africa, Chile, and over 25 mayors and governors – discussed coordination on climate change, particularly in key sectors such as buildings, transport, agriculture and waste management.
Green strings for stimulus packages
As all levels of government plan for socio-economic recovery, stimulus packages could support cities’ transition to decarbonization. Urban investment can promote compact, integrated, mixed-use cities that reduce the distance between place of work and place of residence. The regeneration of green spaces, rethinking urban mobility and promoting public and non-motorized transport, investing in retrofitting buildings to reduce inequalities will help improve well-being and create more jobs.
“Cities are on the frontline of impact, but also of the solutions,” said Andersen. “Greening cities has health benefits, helps climate mitigation and adaptation and creates jobs.”
Moscow joins the G20 Smart Cities Alliance project for responsible adoption of digital technologies
Moscow has been selected as one of the pilot regions to implement the global policy roadmap for the responsible use of digital technologies. Cooperation with members of the G20 Smart Cities Alliance will allow Moscow to share its accumulated experience and analyze the world’s best practices in the use of digital technologies.
The Russian capital will become a member of the G20 Smart Cities Alliance project, which, as part of the development of digital infrastructure, will cooperate in developing common principles and approaches in the areas of information security and personal data protection, increasing the availability of urban infrastructure and electronic services for people with disabilities developing broadband communication networks and open data infrastructure.
37 megacities, including Barcelona, Bogota, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, London, Lisbon, Manila, Melbourne, Mexico City, Milan, San Jose, Istanbul and others, will work on the roadmap of the G20 Smart Cities Alliance. The community involves authorities, international organizations in the field of IT regulation, experts not only from the G20 countries, but also cities interested in digitalization of territories.
The International Smart Cities Alliance was formed in 2019. The organization aims to create international norms and rules for the responsible use of advanced technologies.
Department of Information Technologies of Moscow
The Department of Information Technologies of Moscow (DIT) has been rapidly developing and actively growing for the past 5 years. During these years we have created over a thousand systems and services and we are pursuing the target of launching around 300 new projects annually. Today, we are proud of having digitalized over 166 state services, this is obviously more than any other region of Russia. Moreover, within the last years we have created an outstanding number of 178 portals, including the official Mayor and Government of Moscow web-site “mos.ru”. Our systems cover over 60 industries and penetrate into each aspect of
Moscow citizens’ everyday lives, our products and services include:
- Electronic queue for Civil registry office;
- Arrangement of remote medical appointments;
- Children assignment to kindergardens/schools/extracurricular activities;
- Providing schools with cutting edge technological equipment;
- Obtaining references, enquiries and services remotely;
- Numerous projects in housing and public amenities, starting from telemetrics and
- Energetics to the possibility of submitting water usage information.
Current structure of the Department distinguishes up to 30 unique products and programs, including medical and education systems informatization, creation of crowdsourcing platforms, development of various resources and portals for Moscow and its citizens. We are aimed at continuing the process of effective informatization of the city with an emphasis on innovation development and advanced technologies application.
Cities at Centre of International Initiative to Add Jobs and Protect the Planet
Cities are engines of growth, contributing some 80% to global GDP, but they also account for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Even in a post-COVID-19 future, urbanization is expected to grow. Cities, suburbs and the global infrastructure system have a great impact on nature, yet their role in protecting biodiversity loss and mitigating climate change has been underestimated, until now.
To help transform cities into engines of economic growth compatible with planetary and human well-being, the World Economic Forum is collaborating with the government of Colombia and the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Research on Biological Resources on a new global initiative, BiodiverCities by 2030. This initiative will help cities around the world unlock opportunities for urban growth while protecting the environment.
In order to shape a nature-positive future, the initiative is curating a high-level commission of 25 world-renowned experts and practitioners from government, the private sector, academia and civil society. The Global Commission on BiodiverCities by 2030 will build a shared, framework and forward-looking perspective on the BiodiverCities concept.
The publicly accessible framework will outline how cities can shift from the current untenable relationship with rural areas and natural resource assets towards a more nature-positive model, which, research indicates, can add jobs to the economy. On the back of this knowledge framework, the initiative will also build on the Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform and on a community of innovators and entrepreneurs in close partnership with the World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform.
As President Duque stated, “Colombia is the world’s most biodiverse country by square kilometer, and we have the challenge and the responsibility to protect nature in cities while improving people’s wellbeing. We are excited to partner with the World Economic Forum and key international actors to help shape a much-needed global agenda on BiodiverCities. Building on our produce while conserving and conserve while producing policy, we are eager to both share Colombian cities’ efforts and experiences, and to learn from valuable international knowledge and best practices.”
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, said: “COVID-19’s impact is a stark reminder of our imbalance with the natural world. As cities face the enormous task of recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, BiodiverCities by 2030 aims to show how nature-positive cities can offer transformative opportunities for the benefit of people, planet, health and livelihoods. We greatly look forward to working with the President of Colombia and other partners on this important global initiative and connecting with a community of experts, mayors and policy-makers.”
Research shows that nature-positive solutions, or those that add value back into nature, can create healthier and more resilient cities while generating $3 trillion in business opportunities and creating 117 million jobs. “Cities can be cooler in the summer, have cleaner air and be better protected against flooding if we can put nature at the heart of its development model,” said Akanksha Khatri, Head of the Nature Action Agenda, World Economic Forum.
At the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2020, and during the United Nations General Assembly meeting, President Duque called for a broader effort to advance cities and sustainable development through a “BiodiverCities” approach.
A network of nine Colombian cities, including Barranquilla as one of the initial pilots, aims to include biodiversity in their urban development models and to promote the interaction of citizens with nature. The Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia is leading efforts to pilot this initiative with support by the World Resources Institute and the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Research on Biological Resources.
BiodiverCities by 2030 comes at a vital moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged assumptions about work, transportation and city living; and, nature-positive cities can offer transformative opportunities for the benefit of people, planet, health and livelihoods.This new global initiative and partnership between the World Economic Forum and Colombia will promote cities’ potential to drive pro-biodiversity urban growth.
Cities Are Key to India’s Post-Pandemic Growth
The unfolding COVID-19 pandemic has been catastrophic for cities, which have borne the brunt of the outbreak. According to estimates, about 70% of India’s GDP comes from its cities and around 25-30 people migrate to the cities from rural areas every minute. However, most big cities in India have wide economic disparity, with expansive slums and a large urban poor population. Studies estimate that about 25 million households in India – 35% of all urban households – cannot afford housing at market prices. It is time to create a new urban paradigm that enables cities to be healthier, more inclusive and more resilient.
The World Economic Forum’s new report, Indian Cities in the Post-Pandemic World, highlights the country’s most pressing urban challenges that were further exacerbated by the pandemic. The report provides insights for translating the lessons learned from the pandemic into an urban reform agenda.
The impact of the pandemic has been profoundly uneven on different population groups. Vulnerable populations, including low-income migrant workers, have suffered the dual blows of lost income and weak social-protection coverage. The pandemic has also laid bare gender-based imbalances in public and private life in India’s urban areas.
The report, produced in collaboration with the IDFC Institute in Mumbai, compiles insights from leading global and Indian urban experts across seven thematic pillars: planning, housing, transport, environment, public health, gender and vulnerable populations.
Among other recommendations, the report underscores the critical role data can play in helping cities manage and direct emergency operations during a crisis. But data alone is not a panacea; realizing the potential of cities requires empowered and capable governance, investment in transport and infrastructure to fuel productive urban economies, and a rethink of outdated planning norms and regulations.
The wide-ranging recommendations compiled in the report include:
· A rethink of outdated urban planning regulations, which will make cities more compact, commuter-friendly and green
· Greater decentralization and empowerment of local governments, which will allow for more proximate and responsive governance
· Addressing supply-side constraints to building houses at an affordable cost and encouraging a vibrant rental housing market that allows for labour mobility
· Investing in transport solutions that recognize the need to integrate peri-urban areas with urban cores
· Bolstering health capacity in cities by increasing the number of trained healthcare personnel; ensuring that infrastructure has adequate functional capacity, aligned with current and future demands
· Prioritizing inclusivity by addressing the biases and impediments faced by women and vulnerable populations in accessing urban opportunities
· Prioritizing action on environmental sustainability, air pollution and disaster management in urban rebuilding efforts
“Well-designed and governed cities can be dynamic centres that spur innovation, drive economic productivity and provide citizens with a good quality of life. The pandemic is an opportunity to address historical urban challenges and bring about positive long‑term change,” said Viraj Mehta, Head of India and South Asia and Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.
“Amidst every pandemic, from the bubonic plague to the Spanish flu, pundits have foretold the death of cities. And yet they have emerged stronger every time. The pandemic can be a turning point in India’s urban journey, if we draw the right lessons and translate them into lasting change,” said Reuben Abraham, Chief Executive Officer and Senior Fellow, IDFC Institute.
The Indian Cities in the Post-Pandemic World report is part of the World Economic Forum’s broader collaboration with the IDFC Institute for a working group on Rebuilding Cities which has emerged from the Regional Action Group for South Asia. This group brings together public and private sector leaders and prominent experts from the region to interact regularly in order to support an adequate public-private response to the COVID-19 pandemic and jointly chart recovery efforts.
The working group on Rebuilding Cities is partnering with multiple Indian state governments to constitute state-level working committees comprising local/municipal government representatives, urban experts and other relevant stakeholders to devise implementable and context-specific urban reform recommendations.
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